Alcohol-related death figures hide the true damage caused by alcohol abuse

Leading coroner tells UTV’s Up Close figure is likely 10 times higher

The 351 alcohol-related recorded deaths in Northern Ireland last year could be 10 times that figure, according to NI Coroner Joe McCrisken.  He makes this claim in the next episode of UTV’s current affairs programme ‘Up Close’ which  investigates a dramatic increase in alcohol abuse in Northern Ireland in an in-depth programme which airs this Tuesday 31st May at 10.45pm on UTV.

Entitled ‘Last Orders’ and presented by UTV reporter Sarah Clarke, the programme examines the dark side to Northern Ireland’s drinking culture, the spike in alcohol related deaths and its effects. She speaks to local families and survivors left devastated by alcohol abuse, and asks health experts, the police and charities what can be done to try to turn the tide, examining various measures that could help.

Of the 351 recorded alcohol-related deaths, coroner Joe McCrisken feels it’s likely that many more deaths are related to alcohol abuse like cancers, heart disease, strokes, road traffic accidents and falls. He says, “You could multiply that 351 figure by 10, it’s not possible to know exactly.”

Alex Best, former wife of George Best, talks about living with George who battled alcohol addiction for most of his adult life.  She explains, “He could be a laughy happy drunk and sometime quite a nasty and violent drunk.”  She talks in detail for the first time how he could be ‘very heavy handed’, but insists she wants to remember the good times, “all the bad stuff is now forgotten.”

She also describes to Sarah in detail the circumstances surrounding her own drink driving conviction in 2019. “It was devastating, I was devastated, it taught me a lesson, I could have killed someone” she tells Sarah.  

Sarah interviews recovering alcoholics from all walks of life including GAA player Domhnall Nugent who talks candidly about how his own battle with drug and alcohol addiction led him eventually to a rehab facility in 2019 in Newry.  Only six of the original 12 men in his group are still alive three years later. “That is shocking, so so scary,” he reflects.

Sarah also speaks to the health experts about the harmful effects of alcohol abuse on the body and mind, and the pros and cons of minimum unit pricing.  The PSNI also outline how they deal with alcohol related crime, and the alarming number of young people involved in underage drinking.  Community worker Stephen Hughes informs Sarah, “We’ve a fifteen year old with liver failure from drinking a bottle of vodka a day.”

In a moving interview Peter Dolan, father of student Enda Dolan who was knocked down and killed by a drunk driver, describes to Sarah how events unfolded for him and his family on the night that Enda was knocked down as he made his way to his halls of residence at Queen’s University.   Police brought him and his wife from Omagh to the Royal Victoria Hospital where they were told that Enda had been struck at speed by a van, the driver having been drinking heavily all day.   He describes the ‘very horrible image’ of Enda lying on a trolley in a small room in the hospital.

Peter describes to Sarah how the driver, David Lee Stewart was three and a half times over the legal limit and how he and his passenger failed to call an ambulance after they had knocked him down.  He said, “They threw Enda on the side of the road like a bag of rubbish.”

Peter successfully campaigned for a longer sentence when David Lee Stewart was convicted but despite his sentence being extended, he was caught drink driving again after his release. 

The programme’s producer and director, Brendan McCourt, hopes that it will make the public and politicians more aware of a hidden world: “Many of us are related to, or know someone with a drink problem. Alcohol is endemic in our culture and the social side is portrayed in a very positive way, but it’s important for people to be aware of the dangers of over indulgence, particularly the younger generation.”

Tony Curry, UTV Programmes Editor said, “I’d like to thank all the contributors for shining a light on this very complex issue, especially those who had very personal and moving stories to tell.  We hope that the programme will help the viewer see the damage caused not only to health and wellbeing but also to others when alcohol is misused.”  ‘Up Close – Last Orders’ airs on Tuesday 31st May on UTV at 10.45pm and you can catch up afterwards on www.itv.com/utvprogrammes

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